Inside Out, North West. BBC One, 19.30 Mon, 17 Oct 2011
There are a few news stories that I remember from my early childhood, events so huge that despite barely comprehending them I couldn’t fail to be moved by the public outcry.
There were the strikes and riots synonymous with Thatcher’s Britain, together with atrocities dealt out by murderous swine both foreign and domestic; the effects of these still resonate and define policy today.
I didn’t know a thing about the game itself, but the Hillsborough disaster of 15th April 1989 that resulted in 96 Liverpool F.C. fans being crushed to death and some 766 more being injured created such a furore of attention that it would have been impossible to not get swept away by the anger and frustration at both the failings of the Police, and the deception of the media.
Last Monday’s Inside out: North West, presented by Tony Livesey, was a live broadcast that dealt with the – then ongoing – historic parliamentary debate on whether or not government papers relating to the events should be released to the public.
For the last 22 years, family and friends of the victims have tirelessly led a campaign to find out what happened that day. Two years ago an independent panel was set up to review the case; FOI requests called for the release of case documents; and almost 140,000 people signed an online petition – all prompting tonight’s debate.
The home secretary, Theresa May, today made the significant promise that the families will see every single government document relating to the incident, unredacted.
But survivor, Peter Carney, is sceptical: “There’s a video missing, and if that can go missing, then papers can go missing. There could be things that weren’t disclosed or written down.
“I doubt there’ll be cabinet minutes saying that Thatcher instructed Bernard Ingham to tell his mates at the paper to write a pack of lies.”
Peter Kilfoyle, Liverpool Walton MP at the time talks of: “A vague and ambiguous record (that) may not contain the answers (and) the closure that campaigners expect and deserve.”
He adds that the “cynicism” of campaigners is “perfectly understandable” and draws parallels with the missing evidence of the Iraq war enquiries.
Current Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, Steve Rotheram, is demanding a government apology. He described: “A botched inquest, a flawed enquiry, a farcical review of evidence and a system that worked against the families,” and spoke of an: “Organised conspiracy against natural justice.”
Margaret Aspinall, mother of one of the victims and chairperson of the Hillsborogh Family Support Group said there was: “no doubt that a blanket was put over Hillsborough.”
Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, published a disgusting front page smear demonising the Liverpool supporters as robbers of the fallen dead who assaulted emergency services. The actual “Truth” saw fans ferrying the injured to safety using makeshift stretchers whilst the Police, weeping or confused, did nothing. By the time they did react it was far too late.
The Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium was known to be a dangerous place. Survivor Damian Kavanagh, who helped tend to the injured following his own escape from the crush, described the screams of those trapped, their struggle to get out, and the heroism of other fans who struggled to free them.
Following a visit to the stadium by the PM, Home Secretary and Sports Minister, Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to conduct a Home Office inquiry. His interim report concluded that: “Failure of Police control was the main cause of the tragedy.”
However, the relief and exoneration after the media’s groundless accusations of causing the tragedy was short-lived after, in 1991, a verdict of accidental death was recorded on all the victims; a controversial decision based on the stated time of death that rendered any evidence to the contrary inadmissible, thus vindicating the Police.
Labour’s election in 1997 failed to bring a change of fortunes when a 1998 review found no grounds for a new inquiry and a 2000 private manslaughter prosecution, brought against the two senior Police officers on duty that day, resulted in no charges being brought against the men.
There is hope now that the release of these government documents will see the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy finally receive the truth and justice the campaigners have sought so long and hard for. Then again we need only open a newspaper or turn on the news to see that we don’t live in such a fairy-tale land.
Conspiracies abound and corruption is endemic to our political system. It is maddening to think back over the last 22 years and wonder that despite tonight’s long overdue debate and the lessons of these decades, if the Hillsborough disaster were to happen today, what in the reaction of the Police and politicians would be any different?
It seems far too often the case that those we elect to protect us do not, and those we rely on for the truth lie straight to our faces.